Pool law changes would increase drownings -- expert


Child health experts are concerned proposed changes to swimming pool fencing laws will lead to an increase in drownings.

Specialists from Starship Hospital in Auckland have told a Select Committee that the Building (Pools) Amendment Bill should be rejected.

"We're certain that this legislation puts more children at risk, so it'll cost lives and it'll cost severe brain injury," says Starship Hospital clinical director Dr Mike Shepherd.

The 1987 Fencing of Swimming Pools Act is to be replaced by an amendment to the Building Act 2004. Under the new rules, home pools would be required to have:

The 1987 Fencing of Swimming Pools Act has helped reduce the number of drownings of young children in home swimming pools from an average of 10 per year, down to just two or three. But it is criticised for creating unnecessary compliance costs, and the Government believes it's cumbersome and out of date.

"Requiring a fence where you've got an infinity pool and a 30-metre drop is a bit ridiculous," Minister of Building and Housing Nick Smith says. "Where you've got a block wall, requiring a fence as well is not sensible."

The Government says the Amendment Bill is estimated to save $17 million in compliance costs and six drownings every 10 years.

"We've looked closely at the Coroner's reports on those fatalities of children in pools," says Dr Smith. "They are because they're not being regularly inspected and that's why in this Bill we're proposing to have a compulsory requirement for councils to regularly inspect pools."

But Dr Shepherd remains sceptical.

"Fencing swimming pools has been an incredibly successful piece of legislation," he says. "[There have been] over 200 lives saved, probably thousands of children who haven't sustained brain injury, and we just want to continue to stop children from drowning."

He wants to see all councils inspect pools every three years, not five.

It's something the Government has indicated it's open to changing, and Dr Shepherd hopes there'll be a few more changes like it before the Bill comes into force next year.